BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Friday’s night’s match against the Columbus Crew represents more than just an October regular-season game for the Chicago Fire. It falls on Oct. 8, a date that carries great significance in Fire and Chicago history.
It was 13 years ago that the Chicago Fire were born and formally introduced as an MLS expansion club at Chicago’s Navy Pier in 1997. It was also more than a century ago on the same day that the Great Chicago Fire started, obliterating the city over four straight days.
There is no better excuse for the Fire to put on a true display of passion in a season in which they are on the brink of a rare postseason exclusion. Chicago defender C.J. Brown, the only original member of the inaugural 1998 team, says that the spirit of tradition is something that has been lacking during 2010.
[inline_node:315304]“Maybe that’s where we might have [gone] wrong,” Brown told MLSsoccer.com after practice on Thursday. “A lot of new guys are not familiar with what this club has been about. We didn’t tell these guys and show these guys that there is a tradition here that needs to be followed and enforced.
“Maybe that’s where we need to pick up the ball and get after it with them. That will be part of the talk [on Friday], that’s for sure.”
The team spirit and fight that Bob Bradley inculcated in the team back in 1998 has deserted the Fire this year. Chicago introduced several new players and a new foreign coach in 2010 and Brown is the only current Fire squad member who played under Bradley before he left the club in 2002.
Should the Fire miss out on the playoffs, it would mark only the second time in club history that it has occurred. The team has just seven wins and has failed to win 10 or more matches in a season on just one other occasion. That does not sit well with Brown, who says that players’ jobs are on the line in the last four regular season matches.
“[They should be giving] 100 percent and, if they’re not, they’re in the wrong sport,” Brown said. “They need to say, ‘I want to prove to coach this is where I want to be and this is the club I want to be part of.’”
Fire Designated Player Freddie Ljungberg believes the team has made progress of late in showing a unified front and pulling in the same direction.
“One of the main things we’ve fixed in the last couple of weeks is that we played as a team and fought as a team and that has made things much easier,” Ljungberg told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s been all together and that’s been the difference.”
Chicago have played on Oct. 8 just one other occasion in the last 13 years. It happened to also come against the Columbus Crew in 2005, but the result was a 2-1 loss at Soldier Field. A repeat of that score line on Friday would send the Fire packing for good this year.
In their press materials, Chicago say they will start playing a match annually on Oct. 8 to celebrate their history and founding. If the date is to mean anything in the future, Toyota Park will need to see a show of heart from the 2010 edition of the club beginning on Friday night.
“We need to play with pride and hopefully that shows on the field,” Fire forward Calen Carr said. “I was lucky to come into the organization with players like C.J. Brown, Diego Gutierrez, Chris Armas, Zach Thornton, guys who had been here for a long time. They passed along the tradition to us and that tradition continues.”